Carnival, Rio’s annual five-day festival, concluded in style on Monday night, when tens of thousands of people gathered in the city’s Sambadrome to watch Rio’s famous Samba schools parade through the arena in an elaborate display of flashy performance floats, glittering costumes, and gyrating bodies.
In 2016, Rio will host a very different kind of parade. The Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony, which includes the Parade of Nations, is set to take place August 5th of next year.
There has been a great deal of speculation over whether Brazil is ready for such a massive undertaking.
A year ago, criticism revolved around Rio’s building programs. Billions of dollars were invested in improved transportation systems, housing development projects, new museums, and more, all of which has attracted high-income residents and private donors.
Christopher Gaffney, a professor of architecture and cities at Rio’s Federal Fluminese University, calls it a missed opportunity:
“Instead of creating a space of conviviality, a space of shared culture, of community, of conversation, you are going to have this very isolated element where after 5 o’clock in the afternoon, it’s going to be dead. You are creating banks, parking lots, Trump towers…Now it’s simply becoming a playground for the global rich.”
In the last several months, concerns about Rio’s building programs have moved from a primarily economic and social standpoint to an issue of public health, with the term “sewercide” coined to describe the state of Rio’s waters.
The Instituto Oswaldo Cruz performed water quality tests at the Guanabara Bay, where Olympic events are set to take place. Results from the Bay, the Rio Carioca, and Flamengo Beach, a popular tourist destination, showed that the water had 78 times Brazil’s and 195 times the United States’ legal limit of fecal pollution. In addition, the water was also contaminated with drug-resistant organisms containing Klebsiella pneumoniae. Klebsiella are a kind of “superbug,” resistant to nearly all antibiotics.
As if human feces and deadly bacteria aren’t bad enough, the waters are also polluted by garbage from ships and nearby communities, toxic landfill runoff, and waste from the countless building projects taking place.
The contamination is bad news for residents and tourists, and already worrisome for Olympic water sports. Marathon swimmers, triathletes, and sailing teams are set to compete in the waters, and some have started taking early measures to ensure their safety.
When the Irish sailing team’s performance director spotted sewage in the bay during his visit, he requested that a doctor accompany the team upon their return.
“It is a concern for us,” he said. “Even if the boats don’t capsize you are getting spray because of your speed across the water. If you have a cut we want to know what the chances are of infection.”
Olympic athletes and visitors will have to address the public health issues in 2016, but until then, Brazil’s government has yet to make good on its promise to clean Guanabara Bay, and locals continue to suffer.
Just as Rio’s expensive building projects primarily benefit its wealthier residents, so too would any improvement to the sewage system. 40 percent of the city’s residents live in favelas, or shantytowns, where integrating the new transportation system or any new sewage system would be extremely complicated and expensive due to the favelas’ lack of infrastructure.
The countdown continues for Rio 2016, and the world is waiting to see how Brazil spends its money and resources until then.
Photos courtesy of IB Times, Rio On Watch, and Reddit.